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School board to revisit mask requirement at December meeting

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | November 17, 2021 1:00 AM

Although the COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for emergency use in children ages 5 through 11, Whitefish School District is sticking with the requirement for students in grades K-6 to wear masks at school at least until December.

In a meeting last week, the administrators did not recommend making any changes to the schools’ COVID-19 mitigation strategies and the board unanimously approved the recommendation.

Superintendent Dave Means said that the vaccine is now available for K-6 students, but the district should give families the time needed to get their children fully vaccinated before considering lifting the mask mandate.

“It’s important to note that administration is not recommending any changes at this time,” Means told the board. “In our Aug. 12 meeting we discussed that we would monitor data regarding transmission and that we can also modify when students have had the opportunity to become fully vaccinated. The Dec. 14 board meeting would be really an appropriate time to review and consider the mitigation practices including face coverings.”

As discussed in previous Whitefish School Board meetings, one of the main reasons to require masks for those grades, and not seventh through 12th, was that the vaccine was not yet approved for use in younger children.

At the meeting last week, during public comment resident Matt Smith questioned why the board would wait to discuss the mask issue until December when the vaccine is now available to all children older than 5.

But in deliberation the board agreed with Means, saying that revisiting the issue in December would give ample time for kids to actually receive the shot.

Also during public comment, Whitefish Teachers Union President Megan Pepe said many teachers still have a mixed opinion on requiring face coverings, but again she stressed the difference between the vaccine being available for students and them actually being vaccinated.

“From our perspective, immediately getting rid of masks would be premature, but waiting until kids had an opportunity to get both of those shots would be more reasonable,” she said.

Some of Whitefish’s COVID-19 layered mitigation strategies other than the requirement for grades K-6 to wear face coverings include students and staff asked to stay home if feeling ill, physical distancing, good hand hygiene, daily cleaning, high-quality ventilation and optional vaccinations, among others.

Total positive case numbers have significantly increased in the school district over the past couple of weeks with 19 total positive cases in the last week of October and 16 in the first week of November. A total of 77 students to date have tested positive and 12 staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the school year.

The school board meets again on Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. The meeting is available for the public to join virtually through Zoom with instructions available on the school district website at https://wsd44.org/